Poor HMRC service levels harming business, CIOT survey finds

A survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) has found widespread dissatisfaction with HMRC service levels among both tax agents and taxpayers. A majority of respondents say that poor service levels make it harder to do business, and that they doubt improvements will be made in the coming year.


The online survey was conducted in July and August 2023 to understand members’ perceptions of HMRC service levels. 760 responses were received.1


Among the findings were:


  • 94 per cent of respondents were either ‘somewhat’ or ‘extremely’ dissatisfied with HMRC’s service levels.
  • 96 per cent were ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ confident that these will significantly improve over the next 12 months.
  • 95 per cent said that poor service levels have a ‘moderate’ or ‘significant’ negative impact on the ability to do business.


CIOT President Gary Ashford said:


“These results speak for themselves. Tax advisers and taxpayers have told us of their deep dissatisfaction with HMRC’s service levels. Poor service levels can have a significant impact on their ability to do business. Worryingly, they have little confidence that things will improve any time soon.


“Poor HMRC performance, such as delays in processing registration for taxes and the inability to quickly resolve matters doesn’t just harm the tax system, but has an impact on the wider economic climate too. Businesses are left unable to trade properly, individuals are left without much needed repayments, and costs spiral as they repeatedly chase HMRC for progress updates.”


The CIOT’s survey indicated an appetite among the profession to make greater use of HMRC’s online services, though in most instances telephone contact was seen as a necessity. 89 per cent of respondents said the reason for their contact could not have been resolved digitally, while 80 per cent said they would make use of online resources if it would resolve their issue.


Respondents also indicated that they were experiencing long wait times to be connected to an HMRC adviser. 58 per cent of respondents said they were waiting for more than half an hour to speak with HMRC’s dedicated helpline for agents, a figure that increased to 85 per cent for other HMRC helplines.


Respondents indicated they were more likely to receive an ‘extremely good’ or ‘good service’ from the Agent Dedicated Line (27 per cent), compared to other HMRC helplines (13 per cent). Conversely, 34 per cent of respondents rated the dedicated agent service as ‘poor’ or ‘extremely poor’, compared to 55 per cent for other helplines.


Webchat, the facility currently being promoted by HMRC as an alternative to phoning, received even worse ratings, with 65 per cent rating it ‘poor’ or ‘extremely poor’. Similarly, HMRC’s ‘mainstream’ guidance on GOV.UK was not considered helpful, with 32 per cent of respondents rating it ‘poor’ or ‘extremely poor’, but in the results of those who responded in their capacity as a taxpayer that number increased to 57 per cent.


While respondents said the quality of most HMRC products was ‘adequate’, over 40 per cent rated HMRC’s online forms as ‘poor’ or ‘extremely poor’.


Worryingly, 20 per cent of respondents said they would ‘give up’ if they were unable to get through to speak with an HMRC adviser.


On the findings related to HMRC’s digitalisation agenda, Gary Ashford added:


“HMRC’s attempts to deflect customer contact from phone calls towards their digital services and guidance on GOV.UK does not appear to be working. These survey results tell us that, while most agents and taxpayers want to be able to interact online, the necessary functionality does not exist, while the online guidance is not helping taxpayers find the answers they are looking for.


“HMRC need to further invest in their digital offerings, so that taxpayers and agents can do more of what they need to do online. They also need to take steps to improve how they explain issues to taxpayers in their guidance.


“Only then will HMRC be able to achieve their ambition to reduce phone contact and have customers interact with them online.”